Tag Archives: planetross

Lost in totally no translation

Numata, Japan, 2008. Ross is a kind man and a fabulous guide but eventually Ross had to go back to work. That meant I was about to face Japan solo, armed with nothing but good disposition and a map. Before my trip, I had had time to take two Japanese lessons, just enough to learn how to say with aplomb: “Do you speak English?” and hope for the best. The best did not happen, but in a way, it did.

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I picked a destination at random, the Tenkeiji Temple on Zaimokusho-Dori, and I have to say that based on the map, it looked ultra-simple. Ross had warned me that the map was really old but he had not mentioned that 75% of the streets were not represented nor that the name of the streets would not be written with the Latin alphabet. Roads with no subtitles.

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Five minutes into my walk and I was already completely lost. I spotted what seemed to be a nice gentleman weeding his driveway, and I approached him with a smile and the absolute confidence that, within the next five minutes, a meaningful exchange of information would take place.

With my best Japanese accent (which, by that time, was infused with a bit of a Canadian flavor), I asked: “Do you speak English?” The man looked at me as if I had come from Mars. Maybe he was suffering from a hearing impediment. I repeated my well-rehearsed sentence more slowly and louder, taking great care in mouthing the words exaggeratedly so he could read my lips. No response. A blank stare.

Well, my valiant effort would not be in vain: I pointed at my camera and made eyes like interrogation points (that’s really big eyes with little nods) and he seemed to say okay. He immediately lowered his head so that I could take a really good picture of his hat.

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I continued on my road to nowhere or God knows where. When I saw a real estate agency, I thought for sure they would speak my kind of Japanese. I went in. A man was in polite conversation with, I think, a lady client (I’m sure about the lady part.) Again, with a confidence only slightly dented, I asked: “do you speak Japanese?” They both looked at each other, then back at me. Boy! My two Japanese lessons really sucked. I pointed at the map. They began to speak Japanese to me and I realized I was really in trouble in this country. I made little respectful bows, sumi masen, sumi masen (you can say sumi masen for any occasions, really. One can never go wrong with sumi masen. Hello, good bye, sorry: all sumi masen!) and exited the building.

Five minutes later, a car slowed down next to me, and the driver, the lady client from the real estate agency, made gestures that I should get into her car. I hope that’s what she meant otherwise she must have been really surprised when I hopped in. She drove me to the temple in her mini-car 66-99.

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Kazumi turned out to be very very cool in a non-communicative sort of way and she posed for me in the gardens of Tenkeiji. Having heard numerous tales of Japanese not liking foreigners (gaijin), I was amazed at the kindness of this woman.

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When she was gone, I started exploring. The temple appeared closed (no shoes lined up in front of the door) but the surroundings were beautiful.

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There were some very strange  Mizuko Jizo. It seemed someone had stuffed their mouth with fruit. A bit disturbing and not appetizing at all.

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I then knew why their clothes always looked like bibs. I simply had never witnessed the results of feeding time. A little further, I found mini God statues.

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I think the one on the left is a God and I think the one on the right is the butler, but this is pure conjecture on my part. I’ve probably committed sacrilege and insulted the God of cleanliness and purity.

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Another God-looking statue in the middle of the spring flowers of September, and of course, the tour would not be complete without my favorite: the tombs!

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Except they may not be tombs after all, but prayer stones. If these were tombstones, the people would have to be very small and skinny to fit. So probably, prayer stones… On the other side of the path, a small water way.

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These mini-rivers run all around town. It’s very charming. Numata is the little Venice of Japan. Without the Gondolas.

The problem with being driven somewhere is that you generally do not pay attention to the road. There I was, at Tenkeiji Temple, with the mission to go back to the house, a little blue dot on an archaic map. I just needed to find another good soul to drive me home. I put on my pathetic face and headed out toward a road…

I fell in love with the pig…

And the lazy bastard had to open a store. I have decided a long time ago that I was much more talented at encouraging (harassing) others to promote themselves than to do it for myself. I’m not even trying anymore and I ran out of business cards four months ago. I’m pathetic.

When I saw a drawing of a planet with a pig Cochon and a little man foraging for truffles on the blog of Sir planetross, I told him I wanted a pig shirt. Much prodding ensued.

“Get off the couch and go work on these drawings. Canadians will still be playing hockey tomorrow!”

“Don’t let Kelly Pettit‘s idea of a good time interfere with your work!”

“Do you think graphics for tee-shirts grow in rice fields?!”  (Monsieur planetross lives in Japan in the middle of mountains, hot water springs where men bathe all naked and a lot of rice fields)

Et voila le travail! The store is now officially opened!!!

logo2-copyA difficult delivery (breech if you will) but a full line of tee-shirts, mugs, and other stuff too

We had our fair share of artistic differences. When planetross sent me this graphic:

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I questioned his good judgment. Would people ever buy a shirt with a little boy who peed his pants (even if they weren’t his)? Apparently yes. Monsieur Shinn was the first one to say he totally wanted one! So I caved in.

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And I got my pig shirt too!

e-dylan-and-cochon-21The “cochon tres tres chic” line looks adorable on wee kids.

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Even our President decided that the inspirational messages on the shirts were quite appropriate for the campaign trail:

aobamasouthcarolina“Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is just the entrance to a lighted tunnel.”

The shirts transcend time…

keaton007Buster Keaton sporting his favorite Kelly Pettit Unplugged shirt.

Many famous actors are hopping on the bandwagon (or whatever that expression is) and are adopting planetross’ sense of fashion (I’d never thought I’d say that in a million years, trust me!)

marlon0061Marlon Brando and his special optimism method acting in Streetcar Named Desire”

All the graphics are declined in women’s, men’s, children’s tee shirts, mugs and mouse pads (except for the “coffee mugging” line which is only for mugs and therefore not really a line to be exact.)

canuck_cochon_mug-p168167015538446546tr4i_380“cochon pour le bacon” shows planetross’ patriotic fiber (the man is a Canuck)

mental_mousepad-p144145075472766376cb7z_525-copyWhy buy a regular boring mouse pad when you could buy a beauty like this one?

Also, the lines are quite sporty as evidenced by this shot taken at some kind of golf event.

woods008Generally I’m not one much in favor of red and yellow together but I think it works rather well here.

In summary, it’s all in good fun, the items make splendid gifts, and please go buy something otherwise the boy will never get off his lazy bum again and he will tell me “I told you so” ad nauseam, and I’ll have to eat crow for months at the time, and you would not want that for me now, would you?

The Wife, her Roomate, and the Husband

Numata, Japan. People sometimes have the weirdest living arrangements… or, sometimes, uncommon marriages too. Since my arrival in Numata, Ross and I had been having conversations about his musician friend Kelly. He had told me Kelly lived with his wife, her roomie, and Shoichi the little one. Now, I do not know about you folks, but a husband, a wife, and her roommate sounds like something suspiciously triangular to me. I felt like prying a bit but the right words eluded me. After all, the guy is a rock star and the wife comes from Brazil which is, as you well know, hot hot hot…

On Sunday night, after the Nikko trip, we would all meet at an izakaya for dinner and I would finally meet the two women in Kelly’s life.

When I am asked how Japanese people live, I do not know what to answer. I can pretty much tell you how a Canadian goes about his life in Numata, but Japanese people remain an enigma. All windows have opaque curtains so you cannot peak into their private space (no lack of trying on my part) and if you go to a restaurant, you end up being separated by a curtain or dine in a separate elevated screened room.

Entering the private room, I was surprised to see only one woman. Kelly introduced us: Nathalie, my wife, her roomie. His wife, her roomie? One person? For the last three days, I had been imagining the oddest menage a trois and it all boiled down to a wife called Harumi? Truthfully I felt a tiny bit disappointed… But Harumi proved to be a very fun dinner companion despite our language barrier.

Throughout dinner, Ross and Harumi sometimes adopted the same expressions (but I think Ross may have been committing emulation here.)

Kelly and Harumi did their very best to converse with signs and expressions so I could follow.

Monsieur Ross sat comfortably in his Prometheus shirt, acting very cool and controlled contrarily to Harumi and I.

He ordered the little shrimps you eat whole and while they may not look like much, they are delicious and not to be missed under any circumstances.

The dinner progressed with Kelly grabbing my camera and Ross making a demonstration of… either a religious ritual or how to chop a particular kind of meat. I could not tell you for sure but he seems definitely quite inspired.

This demented-looking man is the owner of the izakaya, Kei Chan. I took this photograph doing my rounds in the restaurant.

This friendly man showing off his skewers is Kei Chan’s faithful cook.

Kei Chan is also a magician and he came into our cabana to perform some tricks.

Ross appeared very interested, acting as skillful assistant too, but knew a lot of the magic and showed me later. After Kei Chan left, Harumi reclined on the floor and made faces. Harumi is a lightweight. Two sips of beer and happiness flows. I think this is what they called “meeting your match!”

As Kelly explained in one of his posts, musicians can be jocks too.

I surmise this was a case of “putting your money where your mouth is!”

And succumbing to the weight on his shoulders…

By this time of the evening, both men are calm and collected, and basically Harumi and I are, as we say in Belgium, “sur le toit” (on the roof.)

This is Harumi sur le toit.

Sur le toit, that’s generally when I let people take my picture.

And Ross wonders how he ended up with such a monkey woman. I think he may even have called me a baboon. The look on his face speaks for itself. (That was Kelly’s favorite photograph.)

Then we took photographs of all our feet (except for the feet of Sir Ross who was not in the mood for toe display.) Suddenly the reasons behind the need for an enclosed private space made a whole lot more sense to me. We left shortly after. Foot photography is always a tell-tale sign that all good things must come to an end.

Walking back to the house, I took this photograph of a man preparing the newspapers for the next day. He showed a bit of surprise at the sight of me entering his office. Ross, while very supportive of the idea, declined to follow me inside.

This is my Numata apple. I unfortunately dropped it. A gift from Harumi, it did not survive the walk home. Numata apples are famous and I can attest to their deliciousness thanks to the roomie. Apples are produced with great care in Japan with growers plucking the leaves off each apple to ensure balanced sunlight. Some of these practices have been discontinued to respond to the US competition after American apples were introduced on the Japanese market in 1995 at a much lower price. (sigh)

Numata apples are collected from more than 100 orchards and are integral part of the culture. A typical Japanese family outing is to spend time picking apples in a farm.

I did not go pick fruit in Numata.

Toshogu, wat een chinese stuut!

Religion confuses me greatly. Raised in Belgium, a country where you either are catholic or not religious for the most part, I was a bit puzzled when first exposed to the myriad of different Christian denominations that exist in the US.

Japan with its mixture of Buddhism and Shinto left me confounded as well. The two co-exist in harmony and even complement each other. For example, a large number of weddings are held in Shinto style, but death being considered a source of impurity, most funerals are Buddhist ceremonies. Shinto Gods are called kami but many Buddhists view them as manifestations of Buddha.

Ross took me to Nikko to visit the Toshogu Shinto shrine (which also contains Buddhist elements – of course!) It is dedicated to the kami of Ieyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 through 1867. To create a worthy shrine for the Shogun, 15,000 craftsmen worked for two years (just like for the Scottish castle!) and used 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf.

One of the telling signs you are entering a Shinto shrine and not a temple is a torii gate. This is the Ishidorii, one of the three best stone torii gates in Japan. The complex of shrines is surrounded by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees.

The original seventeenth century five storied pagoda burned in 1815 and was rebuilt three years later. It has no floors inside, no foundations and contains a suspended pole which swings like a pendulum from the fourth floor to maintain the equilibrium of the pagoda during earthquakes.

Kikazaru, Iwazaru, and Mizaru

The Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha), is traditionally home to an Imperial white horse, a gift of New Zealand. The horse stays at the stable a few hours a day except when it rains or snows. It was raining on the day we visited so I did not get to see it.

I was wondering why so many people were standing around the empty building until I suddenly recognized the famous Three Wise Monkeys carving on the facade. The maxim originated out of a wordplay on “zaru” which means monkey, but is also an archaic negative verb conjugation.

Monkeys have been considered guardian protectors of horses since early times in Japan.

Another famous carving is that of the “Imaginary Elephant” on the Kamijinko, one of the three sacred warehouses. Why imaginary? The Chief Carver, Tanyu Kano had never seen an elephant therefore liberties were definitely taken for the representation.

While most Shinto shrines are characterized by a minimalist architecture that blends in the surroundings, Toshogu appears much more Chinese in its lavish intricate decoration, colors and representations of dragons, birds, flowers, and sages. Some are said to be repelled by its gaudiness but I found it mesmerizing. I would not want it in my living room but such splendor in the forest felt magical.

The mausoleum of Ieyasu in comparison to the pictured constructions is very simple but I took no photographs of it. You have to climb 200 very steep steps to accede his tomb and there were just way too many other things to see without exerting yourself in the process. My mother would kill me, but disown me first. I’m glad she does not read my blog.

The lanterns are very beautiful. There are more than 120, all donated by warlords.

This one has an added human element.

There were a lot of people despite the rain. Some seemed more appropriately dressed than others.

Honestly, I do not know what is happening here. It appears that the hand of a small child is rubbing the shaved cranium of one of the men. I wonder if Ross’ students try to pat his head too.

A classic!

Cool looking painter who could have come straight out of a Tintin book

Japanese tourists

Purification troughs are typically found near the entrance of a Shinto shrine. There is a precise ritual involved in cleansing yourself: you need to fill a ladle with fresh water and clean both hands, then transfer some water from your cupped hand to your mouth, rinse it, and spit the water next to the fountain. You cannot put the ladle to your mouth nor are you ever supposed to swallow the water. A lot of people skip that step all together.

Another very cool lantern.

This is a God.

This is a photograph taken by Ross of someone holding what would appear to be a heavy God.

The God of Thunder

The God of Wind

A Very Blue God

A Dragon guardian

While we visited, a dance festival was taking place in front of the five storied pagoda. At first, I attempted to photograph it holding the camera with one hand and the umbrella with the other, but I gave up because frankly the process lacked the comfort factor. At the end however, the weather improved, and poor Ross who thought we were driving back to Numata was in store for an other hour of Japanese dancing photography. Ross is a very patient man (thank you!)

Back to Nature After Sake Overdose

Numata, Japan. After the debauchery at Gen Roku the night before, it was time to go back to the pasture a bit and enjoy the more natural treasures of the area. On Sunday morning, we set sails early. Oscar Wilde said “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, so we skipped breakfast all together and bought hot coffees in a can from a street dispenser.

Hot coffee in a can! Awesomeness right there AND Tommy Lee Jones stars in many commercials as a coffee spokesperson AND an alien who looks exactly like Tommy Lee Jones (eventually he goes back to his planet BUT he misses the coffee in a can so much he returns to earth.)

Ross refueled the van. I can confirm that he does in fact have a bumper sticker that spells “Vaginas are way cool” (in case you had any doubts.) We drove towards the mountains on Route 120, the Japanese version of the German’s Romantic Road.

The red dot is where we were and I’m not sure where we were going on the map, but our final destination was Nikko. Ross promised we would stop along the way to check out some famous waterfalls.

Fukiwari no taki or Japan’s Niagara Falls in Tone Village is a shallow but a rather impressive waterfall. It was created from the stream eroding the soft monolith rock and is shaped like a banana.

You can get very close to it but if you step over the white line, Monsieur Ross lets you know in no uncertain terms that it is not safe nor allowed.

There is a pathway which allows you to walk besides the stream and it gave me ample opportunity to abuse my designated model.

Abused here,

and abused here,

Downright violated. Actually he was absorbed in contemplation here.

Going upstream, a very cool bridge

A little store sold fortunes. The tradition is to keep the good ones and tie the not so good ones to a rope to leave them behind. Walking pass all this bad fortune is probably not recommended.

The serene scenery from the bridge

After walking 10,000 miles (30,000 for me) we hopped back in the vagivan and cruised towards the next waterfalls using a very twisty road in the mountain. Each turn is designated by a different kana and we tried to memorize them BUT it is better to attempt the exercise after a full night sleep, no sake, and no beer, as I found out (after a few turns.)

We stopped at what we thought were perhaps Kegon Falls and Ross explained that since I had my camera, he would leave his in the van… then he saw all the Lotus cars and he went back to the parking lot to get his camera. Men!

We finally found the Kegon no taki which flows from Lake Chuzenji and which water plunges down 97 meters! There were bus loads of people and the observatories appeared jam-packed.

It was as fun to photograph the people taking pictures, some with their cell phones.

I do not think this one will make it to the album.

But this one might.

And voila the explanation for all my woes. A pint-size kid posing for his mom. Making the peace sign. I think the peace sign might be the equivalent of our “cheese”, and could be ingrained in the Japanese youth by well-intentioned parents before children learn how to walk.

Fish on a stick! I did not taste these. They were snacks sold at the Kegon falls and I’d rather have my fish raw and without a head or a stick. Besides, we had had plenty of Nikumans along the way.

This was just the beginning of the adventure… Back in the van and en route for Nikko (after desperately trying to find some ladies bathroom with an actual toilet instead of holes – which may be quite economical for the Japanese but absolutely irreconcilable with my deep-seated Jackie O. complex.)

Izakayas + Japadians = Fun Tonight, Hell Tomorrow

Numata, Japan. Saturday night. Kelly came over for a before drinks drink. Ross and I showed him our new toys and Kelly oohed and aahed politely until he spotted the coin bank, then he really meant it!

We debated whether it was motion, sound, or touch triggered, screaming at it and making all kinds of cool gestures in front of it but, in the end, we could not tell for sure. To this day, it remains a mystery. Time flies by when in Numata, and we suddenly realized it was 10 pm and we were starving. Off we went to Gen Roku Izakaya.

We sat at the “bar” where your legs and feet dangle into a hole in the floor. Of course, we first had to take our shoes off which still weirds me out a bit.

Ross and Kelly had beer (and let me tell you Japanese do not serve little rikiki beers), and I had sake which I adore and is very dangerous for my sobriety. Soon, I was taking the camera to a nearby alcove when youngsters were eating and mostly drinking.

They seemed to welcome me crashing the party and made multiple peace signs.

And more peace signs… If you try to convey that you’d rather them NOT make peace signs, they get very confused, soooo get used to it. Many more peace signs to come!

By the time I got back to our bar hole, Kelly was lovingly kissing my handbag.

Ross was making peace signs too (they were peace signs, right Ross?) and I was feeling quite, er, relaxed and amorous. I generally do not go about restaurant reclining but my shoes were confiscated and my sake goblet never ran out of liquid (by the way, in Japan, a woman never pours her own sake, she has to hold the cup, and put her other hand under it – so that if the guy misses, she’ll sustain third degree burns but the table cloth will remain immaculate – then hopefully a man notices her begging for sake and serves her some.)

The owners of Gen Roku, traditionally called Master san and Mamma san, were the bomb!

Kelly lifted Mamma san off the floor and moved her around a bit (I think she liked that.)

But Master san had an expression on his face which makes me think he liked his Mamma san better with her feet on the ground and away from the rock star.

Master san’s sock shoes had issues.

Me too. Poor Ross. It must be fairly difficult to have dinner with a monkey woman hanging from your neck! Well, as I mentioned before, Ross is a very polite man and he resignedly let me have my way with him. Then I decided to document the azakaya’s kitchen.

I think the cooks san were trying to convey the delightfulness of the food at Gen Roku – either that or the guy san on the left is rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck.

Cook san on the right presented the kitchen which appeared spotless and a fun environment.

I would fail all my duties if I did not post the traditional peace sign photograph too. You will not be spared.

Oh yeah, no sparing for you!

My last souvenir of Gen Roku Izakaya: Ross in animated Japanese discussion with Master san and Kelly really needing to go home. Ross and I took a cab to the 7/11.

This is our cab driver. My experience of izakayas with Ross and Kelly is that when you get out of there, you generally need some kind of food otherwise waking up in the morning feels miserable.

That’s the best hangover preventive ever: the Nikuman that Ross describes as a “gorgeous creation of doughy crap and possible meat all just waiting for you when you walk in the door.” He can eat four on the row which is really quite impressive when you think about it.

Dallas is not half as fun as Numata with the crazy Japadians. Blogging about this makes me feel all sad and nostalgic and I have not even been back a week. On the other hand, I have felt inexplicably much better in the morning since my return.

The Quest for the Holy Santa Claus

Numata, Japan. When I arrived at the house of sir planetross on Thursday night, the first thing I noticed in the living room stood on his bookshelf. The ultimate funky toy. A marvel of orange hair and manic looks: Road Rage Racer!!!

He makes all the sounds of the motor and acts totally pissed off and nuts off the charts. I had to have it. So Saturday morning, Ross drove me the Aeon Shopping Center so I could purchase one as well as a Backgammon board to give him a spanking (I ended up being the flogged one but that’s a matter I do not care to dwell upon as I am still feeling rather sore.)

I generally do not take photographs from cars, but traffic lights in Japan must be mentioned. They stay red forever! It’s heresy. Kelly had written a post about them on his venting page and frankly, I just thought he was taking romantic liberties with reality for literary effect but not at all.

Stagnating at red lights gave me the opportunity to practice ’emanating from the car through the windscreen” photography and to allow you a bird’s eye view into the scenery. After arriving at the mall, we shopped at several toy stores and we both purchased incredibly cool coin banks, then we headed towards the Hideaway Store where this skinny man sold me my Road Rage Racer:

Then it was time to go listen to Kelly play at Lockheart Castle in the area of Takayama village. Lockheart Castle was built in the south of Edimburgh in 1829 as Milton Lockhart, the mansion of John Lockhart, biographer of Sir Walter Scott.

In 1988, at a time where Japan could still buy the world, actor Masahiko Tsugawa (“Tampopo”) fulfilled his dream of having the Scottish castle dismantled brick by brick and shipped in 30 containers along the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan. The reconstruction lasted three years and, according to the official website, involved 15,000 workers (just like the pyramids but more.) It was renamed Lockheart Castle and a slew of shops were added to the edifice. Kelly sings there often.

After we listened to a few songs, Kelly got assaulted by a gang of Japanese people who wanted to buy his CD, so Ross showed me around.

In the castle, he sat on the throne. I am not sure he was supposed to but he did anyway and I think he looks very regal sitting there. He then told me about the Santa Claus and Christmas Museum on the second floor of the castle. I kid you not. That’s where it becomes a wee bit on the tacky side for me. In a castle, you expect stuff like Holy Grails, not Santas. Now add Japan to the equation…

I don’t think I have ever felt so over-christmased. What a strange gig! Hundreds of Santa Claus figurines doing various things I’m sure Santa would never dream of doing (including an Elvis impersonation and that’s just plain wrong!)

Kelly having finally disengaged from the admiring masses deigned join us and I asked the boys to pose together.

Taking a cue from one of my previous posts, Ross and Kelly did act as if they were uncomfortable posing together. They did a pretty convincing job of it in that photograph and the other twenty that followed where I was able to witness a vast array of facial expressions that I would qualify as singularly unnatural (but they are very funny!)

Finally, I was very happy with this one.

And I was even happier with this one (thank you Kelly!)

Right now, I am toying with my awesome Road Rage Racer which stands right next to my laptop. It ranks high up there with my Pinocchio with retractable nose but in times of frustration, it definitely works much better.

planetross eats skewers of bones

Numata, Japan. At 9:50 pm, planetross leaves work. Not before saying to his remaining colleagues he is sorry to depart before them: “Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu”, “osaki ni shitsurei shimasu”, etc. Between you, me and the fence post, I don’t think he really means it (I would surmise the opposite is probably quite true), but Japan seems really big on manners and planetross is an extremely polite man.

At 10 pm, I see him pull up in his driveway from the balcony where I’m roosting (my favorite place to observe the neighborhood.) I run downstairs with the energy of someone who has been sleeping the whole time he has been working. No mercy! I feel eager to discover Numata by night.

planetross, Ross really, announces we will go eat at an Izakaya which is a bar/restaurant combo but sounds so much more exotic in Japanese. We walk for about a minute when I realize that for every step Ross takes, I have to take three. Hurriedly. He is a whole foot taller than I am and I think it’s all in his legs. At the traffic light, I look at him sheepishly and we go back to the house where I trade the four inch heels for threes. We are finally good to go!

Numata late in the evening looks deserted, a true ghost town. Pretty lanterns adorn each side of the main road but once you take small streets, it can get pretty dark.

At one intersection, Ross spots one of the teenagers who study where he works, going home on her bike. It’s 10:45 pm! On a Friday night! He explains that in Japan, to enroll in the good high schools, the student must perform well on an entry exam. If the results are deemed unsatisfactory, the Numata kid has to attend class in the high school from another town located an hour and a half away! Needless to say, the kids appear highly motivated to study and they spend most of their evenings and week-ends cramming for the exam.

I was surprised to discover blankets hanging from the sides of houses like this one. Ross explained that when two houses are conjoint and one is demolished, blue tarps are temporarily placed to provide some insulation. Often, they are not replaced by more permanent construction.

Of course, I make Ross pose in front of the tarps! You may be wondering why he never smiles on the images I post but I’m trying to balance out his own photographs where he is always cracking up. In fact, I have a lot of him smiling too 😉

When we get to the Komachi Izakaya, we sit at the bar where we can see what happens in the kitchen. I grab the menu. Ha! Ha! It’s all in Japanese. No drawing. No pictures. Not a trace of English. I am not sure what I would have done had I been on my own. Probably stay close to the 7/11.

I give Ross the menu. Ross is now de facto the boss of what I eat. He suggests skewers of chicken skins, skewers of chicken bones and little shrimps you eat whole with the eyes and everything. I look at him funny because, of course, I think he is joking. He is not joking. The man has insane tastes! He never blogged about eating bones! Generously, he also orders some chicken and green onions which makes me feel much more comfortable.

It turns out, after a bite of the chicken skins (a little one just to show that I am worldly and would try just about anything), well it turns out they are so yummy I want them all to myself! The shrimps? Oooh heavens! So good! After hearing Ross eat the bones, I decide to draw a boundary but Japanese cooking absolutely rocks big time!

When we leave the Izakaya, we meet these happy young ones who seemed much less serious when not wearing a school uniform. The V is not for victory but for peace. All my photographs of young Japanese people include the peace sign. Nothing can be done. It is endemic.

We walked to the Suga Shrine where the Numata Festival ends every year. It feels extremely strange and surreal to be in a place previously described by Ross in one of his posts.

At the end of this dark alley, a Snack Bar. That’s not the place where you get a sandwich and a coke to go. This is where you go when as a man, you would like the company of a woman. Platonic company I must add. You buy a bottle, and a woman sits and talks to you. They seem fairly popular. Numata also has a number of Love Hotels where you can rent a room for a very short time. Some people just rent rooms for karaoke sessions or to have a place to entertain a group of friends.

It is 1 am and time to go to bed because tomorrow, we have to shop for toys, visit a Scottish castle, listen to Kelly perform, and have more chicken skins and a lot of sake for me (I’m still hesitating about posting some of the photographs!)

Oyasuminasai!

Red-Nosed Spirits in The Mountain

I hopped on the bus at Narita Airport in Tokyo and I went: “No Waaaay!” (in my head.) Japan is exactly like St. Croix: folks drive on the wrong side of the street. Dammit! That crucial tidbit of information meant I would not get behind the wheel under any circumstances during my trip as to not create an international accident of astronomical proportion.

The bus ride to Shibukawa where Kelly would pick me up lasted more than four hours but I sat quietly, greatly entertained by the new scenery. I arrived a bit early so I rounded up the bus drivers for a special shoot.

None of the drivers spoke ANY English. I had reached lesson two of my Japanese method and thought I had master: “Do you understand English?” but apparently not. I had to wave my camera under their noses and point at a place outside where I wanted them to pose. I had to be bossy.

Photographing Japanese people would prove difficult. I should have pushed to at least lesson three or four perhaps, but time somehow eluded me.

Kelly blasted in the parking lot and we drove off to Numata, music blaring (I just finally got an iPod and I am obsessed with it), and getting to know each other during the 40 minute trip. When I said planetross was living at the end of the world, I was totally not kidding. Really.

He always works late hours so Kelly and I toured his house and had a few drinks before he arrived (more exactly Kelly watched me have a few drinks.)

Then planetross arrived and it was all good.

The next morning, we drove to Mt. Kasho (Kashozan) also known as Tengu’s Mountain. It is highly regarded as a sacred place and hosts a Buddhist Temple first established in 848. The Temple followed the Tendai Sect, and converted to the Soto Sect of Buddhism in the 15th century.

Along the way, we stopped at a shrine in the forest on the side of the road.

It felt peaceful. I could inundate poor planetross with a thousand questions and make him pose everywhere. That’s also the location I encountered my first Mizuko Jizo, guardian of a stillborn baby, miscarried or aborted fetus, or a baby who died very early on.

The worshipers pay a fee to the Temple to adopt a Mizuko Jizo (potential Buddha of the water-babies) and inscribe a Kaymyo (name given after death) on it. The ritual of honoring the Mikuzo figurines is called Mikuzo Kuyo.

I think some Mizuko are weird looking. If you compare the two above photographs, you can surely notice that one is definitely more blessed by nature than the other. Anyway, these statuettes abound all over the area which sounds a bit sinister but really isn’t.

We continued our ascent of the mountain to get to the main cluster of temples. It is said that the Buddhist priest Chuho told his successor that he was the embodiment of Kasho buddha, and that he would stay on the mountain as a spirit. Then as his spirit ascended, he left behind a mask of Tengu.

Tengu (“Heavenly dogs”) are monter-spirits which are sometimes worshiped as revered gods. Initially, the tengu took the form of birds of prey, but throughout history, have come to be humanized with an abnormally long nose (that kinda looks like something else.) The Mirokuji Temple is one of three large temples in Japan to enshrine Tengu.

This, for example, could be the representation of an earlier Tengu. I would not know. Everything is in Japanese and no one speaks English.

That was a very cool hairy Tengu. Kashozan is the home of the biggest Tengu mask in Japan: 21.98 ft and a VERY long nose of 8.86 ft! Visitors of the Temple can rent a Tengu mask for wish granting. I did not rent one since I had all I wanted and I figured the language barrier would probably hurt my chances of being heard anyway.

You can also contribute a big mask to the Temple. In 1971, the Great Tengu Religious Association gave one to pray for protection from traffic accident and for the prosperity of the Numata Chamber of commerce and Industry.

In the middle of all that Tengu spirituality, I had planetross pose everywhere. He had insisted on wearing his tennis shoes number ones, which were all new and screwed up my contrast on every shot. He even had some number threes but I had to wait two days before he agreed to wear them! Wanker!

The above photograph represents I have no idea whom but it had cool glasses so I thought I’d share.

I thought these were prayers and I was getting all solemn but, er, nenni my friends, nenni. These are thanks to sponsors! You can be a Buddhist priest and have an excellent sense of business.

Soon it was time to leave since planetross had to work that afternoon and and I had to take a monster nap. That evening, we would go to an izakaya to grab a bite and take pictures of Numata by night (which was a lot of fun from what I can vaguely remember.)

Konnichiwa!

I would go to the end of the world to meet a person who tickles my curiosity bone, not to mention my funny one.

So, I went… AND honestly, the end of the world was even further than I thought (when you add a 4 hour bus ride) AND it was totally worth every damn mile. I’m happy!

I will now leave you with my two favorite Canadians EVER and go to bed. Details of the journey will follow. No secret information will be shared… but I come back with 2,000 photographs so I’ll have plenty to show you!

planetroCKss in Japan after experimenting with hair shears

Kelly Pettit and lovely wife Harumi

note: I can be bribed (but it won’t be cheap.)